If there were any doubts about the significance of Chapman's game against Cal State Northridge Friday night in Hutton Sports Center, they were quickly dispelled.
Quickly, as in the first play of the game. Chapman controlled the opening tipoff and Chris Perine dunked, courtesy of David Roth's pass.
Panther Coach Kevin Wilson is fond of saying dunks don't mean anything more than two points.
That hasn't changed. A dunk is still two points. But in the case of the Panthers, it meant a lot more against Northridge as far as setting the tone.
Chapman used its early momentum and held off Northridge time and time again in the second half to secure a 79-72 victory in front of an announced crowd of 1,350.
It was a crucial game in regard to the Panthers' chances for a spot in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament in March. Heading into Friday night's game, Northridge was in a third-place tie with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The Panthers were a game behind in fifth.
Only four teams make the conference tournament and Chapman pulled itself back into the race, tied with Northridge at 6-5 for the final spot.
"We ran the offense and shot the ball better this time," said Wilson, whose team lost to the Matadors, 66-58, at Northridge in the first meeting. "It was more intense this time. The guys were more ready, I don't know why."
The race for fourth place obviously had something to do with it. And the return of forward Kelly Huston was another reason why the Panthers stopped their three-game losing streak.
Huston suffered a dislocated right kneecap the day before last week's game against Cal State Dominguez Hills. Chapman lost that game and the next two road games last weekend.
On Friday, Huston scored a game-high 21 points, making 8 of 10 from the field in 29 minutes.
"He was a little winded," Wilson said. "Kelly was kind of laboring in the second half. . . . He said he was tired and that the knee felt a little weak."
Huston had ample support from his teammates. David Roth scored 16 points, Karl Tompkins had 13 points and 9 rebounds and Jon Samuelson added 11. In the eight games Roth has started for the Panthers, he reached double figures seven times. That includes performances of 27 and 24 points.
Northridge was led by Ray Horwath's 20 points and Todd Bowser and Jimmy Daniels each had 17. The Matadors' cause was hurt by Paul Drecksel's performance. He had scored 14 against Chapman in the first meeting but had only five Friday.
Chapman (13-12 overall) shot 56% from the floor to 41% for the Matadors. Northridge (10-14) managed to stay close as Daniels converted four three-point attempts in the first half.
After the opening dunk, the Panthers took a 9-3 lead in the opening 2:31. Northridge rallied to eventually take a 21-17 lead with 12:12 remaining in the half. But Chapman regained the lead at 23-21 with 10:36 left.
In a women's game:
Cal State Northridge 61, Chapman 60--Liz Enright hit an eight-foot shot with one second left to give Northridge the victory at Chapman.
The victory moved Northridge (6-4, 13-10 overall) ahead of Chapman (5-4, 12-11) into second place in the conference.
Denise Sitton led the Matadors with a game-high 26 points.